Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, commonly known as Erasmus, was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, around 1466. The illegitimate son of a priest and a physician’s daughter, his early years were marked by challenges.
Erasmus received his primary education at the renowned Latin schools in Den Bosch and Deventer, Netherlands. Despite losing both parents to the plague at a young age, he continued his scholarly pursuits.
At 22, he took monastic vows and was ordained as a priest in 1492. However, his thirst for knowledge and intellectual exploration led him to pursue academic studies at the University of Paris.
Erasmus’ early life laid the foundation for his commitment to humanist values, literary brilliance, and scholarly achievements.
Erasmus’ Personal Library
Erasmus’ personal library was a treasure trove of wisdom, filled with Greek and Latin classics, religious texts, and humanist works. Even though he moved frequently, his collection of books always accompanied him.
He often exchanged letters with other scholars, sharing insights and requesting books to add to his growing collection.
Though a comprehensive catalog of his library doesn’t exist, some historians have pegged the number at 400. Included in the collection were the works of Livius, Tacitus, Plutarch, Thomas Aquinas, John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and more. All that paints a vivid picture of a mind that was endlessly curious and profoundly learned.
In 1525, Erasmus made a deal with Jan Laski when he sold his library. The arrangement stated that all future acquisitions would be included in the sale, with the exception of certain valuable manuscripts. This clause had significant implications for the buyer.
By the time the collection was transferred to Laski in 1536, it had grown considerably more extensive than at the time the purchase agreement was negotiated.
Evidence shows that 115 books in the shipping list were published after 1525. Additionally, it is almost certain that about 10 older works were neither purchased nor received as gifts until after the transaction in that year.
The legacy of Erasmus stretches beyond his vast book collection or literary accomplishments. His dedication to intellectual rigor and his ability to engage critically with the culture of his day left an indelible mark on the Renaissance and subsequent generations.
He may have been, at times, a controversial figure, but Erasmus’ commitment to humanist principles, combined with his love for classical literature, has cemented his place as one of the preeminent bibliophiles of history.
Through the lens of Erasmus’ library, one can glimpse a mind that sought to bridge the ancient and modern worlds to enrich the human intellect. His love for books was not a mere private indulgence but a pathway to understanding the world and oneself.
Explore more stories in the ‘100 Bibliophiles‘ series where we celebrate the love for books through the lives of those who cherished them most.
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